After a restful couple of days, it’s time to get the Eastern Conference Final started.
The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens each came away with seven-game victories in the second round and for the Rangers that made two consecutive series that went seven. Do the Rangers hit a wall any time soon or do they find a way to put a team away early? It’s only one of 1,000 questions that can be asked in this series.
With the Habs having home ice, they’re hoping things turn more like they did against Tampa Bay than they did with Boston. Hey, at least they’ve already earned the Rangers respect, right?
Game 1: Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers (1:00 p.m. ET — NBC)
There are legitimate curiosities for both teams going into this series, but perhaps the biggest one is how Henrik Lundqvist will fare.
Lundqvist’s history playing in Montreal is legitimately terrible. He hasn’t won at Bell Centre since 2009 and in four appearances there since that last victory, he’s 0-3-1 with an abysmal .862 save percentage. If those numbers don’t change in a hurry, the Rangers are in it deep or need Cam Talbot to play the part of the road game savior. If ever there was a time for King Henrik to figure it out it’s now.
Add in the fact Rick Nash is still looking for his first goal of the playoffs and you’d think the Rangers are doomed, yet here are the Canadiens in their first Eastern Final since 2010 when Jaroslav Halak led them deep into the postseason. Now it’s on Carey Price to be the man and, like Lundqvist, he’s been outstanding in the playoffs.
Unlike the Rangers, however, Montreal doesn’t have a big time player in a big time offensive funk. Their attack has been spread out well through the postseason and P.K. Subban has led the charge with four goals and 12 points. Subban is one of four players with four goals while Thomas Vanek has five.
These teams are separated by just over 350 miles and are Original Six squads that haven’t met in the playoffs since 1996. It’ll be fun to add another chapter to their history.
For the second time since taking over as head coach, Mike Yeo has lost the services Paul Stastny.
This time, though, Yeo was caught off guard.
“It may sound misleading, but it was a completely separate injury that kept him out of (Tuesday’s) game and one that we believed would have him possibly in the lineup for us tonight,” Yeo told the Post-Dispatch of Stastny’s lower-body ailment, which will keep him out week-to-week. “We were surprised to hear that this came about yesterday.
“Believe me, I was probably more surprised than all the fans out there. So it’s a difficult one, but one that we’ll have to overcome.”
Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious — and it very well may not haven been — but that’s irrelevant now, as an entirely new issue could potentially sideline Stastny for the remainder of the regular season.
The Blues are in good shape for a playoff spot, up eight points on L.A., but are jockeying with Nashville for third spot in the Central Division (both head into tonight’s action with 83 points). St. Louis also has 10 games left.
There’s no denying Stastny’s absence will be felt. Back when he missed four games in early February, Yeo noted how integral he was to the club.
“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”
Limited to just 66 games this season, Stastny has still managed to score 18 goals — third-most on the team — and 40 points. He also averages a healthy 19:08 TOI per night.
Last summer, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter stressed that some of the club’s young prospects needed to make an impact at the NHL level.
And now it’s happening.
Following the recalls and NHL debuts of Adrian Kempe and Paul LaDue, the Kings have brought up Jonny Brodzinski from AHL Ontario, the club announced on Thursday.
Brodzinski, 23, made the AHL All-Star team this year and leads the Reign in goals, with 25 through 56 games. The former St. Could State sniper left school early two years ago to join the Kings organization, after L.A. took him in the fifth round of the ’13 draft.
As mentioned above, this recall is in lockstep with what’s developed throughout the year. Kempe, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (29th overall) in ’14 and has fared well since joining the big club, with six points in 16 games.
LaDue, 24, was a sixth-round pick in ’12 that — like Kempe and Brodzinski — fared well in the American League before getting recalled in February. LaDue has appeared in 15 games for the Kings, scoring five points while averaging 16:25 TOI per night.
Los Angeles is still technically in the playoff race, but sits eight points back of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with just 10 games to play. As such, the focus might now shift to giving some youngsters NHL experience.
Brodzinski will have to wait for his, however. Per LA Kings Insider, it doesn’t look like he’ll play tonight, when the Kings host the Jets at Staples.
Roman Polak‘s hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand has drawn more than the ire of Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.
Today, the NHL announced that Polak, a defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been suspended two games for boarding Bjorkstrand Wednesday in Columbus.
In making the ruling, the league’s Department of Player Safety determined that Polak sent Bjorkstrand “violently” into the boards from behind, causing an injury. The DoPS also noted that the hit was avoidable, with the onus on Polak to “ensure that he avoids this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimizes the force of the impact.”
You can watch the full ruling below:
Minnesota is getting one of its prized youngsters in the mix.
Luke Kunin, the club’s first-round pick (15th overall) at last year’s draft, is leaving the University of Wisconsin following his sophomore campaign, per the Star-Tribune. Kunin will reportedly join Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa on an amateur tryout.
Kunin, 19, is coming off a pretty successful campaign. He was the first soph to captain the Badgers in over 40 years, and led the team in goals (22) and points (38). That came after he captained the U.S. to gold at the world juniors, scoring four points in seven games.
Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Kunin will play out this year in the minors, and his entry-level deal will kick in next season. That means he won’t be with the Wild at all this year — regular season or playoffs.
As mentioned, Kunin is just one of the many talented prospects Minnesota has in the fold. Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, all showed extremely well at the worlds.